Local News

Raleigh weighs limits on pine straw outside homes

Posted April 6, 2010 5:11 p.m. EDT
Updated April 6, 2010 6:34 p.m. EDT

— The City Council on Tuesday debated a suggestion by Mayor Charles Meeker to enact tougher restrictions on the use of pine straw in landscaping around Raleigh homes.

The Raleigh Fire Department recommended last week that the city pass an ordinance prohibiting the use of pine straw within 10 feet of combustible structures, aside from single-family homes and duplexes. The recommendation came after a March 23 fire that destroyed seven homes in the Highland Creek subdivision off Louisburg Road in northeast Raleigh.

"The pine straw issue is ... first of all, the most effective (and the) simplest thing we can do to address and alleviate some of the hazards we see," Raleigh Fire Marshal Rusty Styons told the City Council on Tuesday.

Meeker said he doesn't believe the recommendation goes far enough, and he called for an ordinance to keep pine straw 20 to 30 feet from buildings. He said one- and two-family dwellings also should be covered by the ordinance.

Styons said the Raleigh Fire Department doesn't have the authority to enforce regulations on single-family homes and duplexes, although city building inspectors could enforce such rules.

"We think the 10-feet (limit) is, in fact, prudent," he said.

Meeker's effort sparked a discussion among council members about the pine tree's status as North Carolina's state tree and the importance of the pine straw industry to the state economy.

"Are we going to say you're not going to have a tree within a certain distance of a house?" Councilman Thomas Crowder asked, noting he routinely gets pine needles in his yard from trees.

"I didn't mean to suggest that we eliminate pine trees," Meeker said. "What I was suggesting is we have a restriction on pine straw that is stacked next to single-family homes."

The issue was referred to a committee for further review.

A pair of similar fires three years ago led to changes in the building codes at the city and state levels.

Pine straw next to units in the Pine Knolls Townes complex, off Capital Boulevard in Raleigh, helped spread a February 2007 fire that damaged or destroyed 38 townhouses.

Six months later, a fire destroyed two homes in the Village at Rolesville subdivision in Rolesville. That led the town to consider changes to its building codes.

Meeker said he doesn't think Raleigh went far enough in changing building codes after the Pine Knolls Townes fire, and now is the time to make up for it.

"We haven't had anybody killed or seriously injured, but that could happen in the wrong situation," he said. "This is truly a life safety issue."